Regionally Aligned Forces and Global Engagement
At the 2013 AUSA annual meeting and convention in Washington, D.C., I was able to attend a forum entitled Regionally Aligned Forces and Global Engagement. Speakers on the panel included the U.S. Army Forces Command Commander, GEN Daniel B. Allyn; the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, LTG James L Huggins, Jr.; and the U.S. Army Africa Commander, MG Patrick J. Donahue II.
During the Q&A a retired Foreign Area Officer (FSO) with experience in Africa got up and made a comment on the failings of America’s military and civilian official’s ability to build relationships with key leaders on that continent. Based on the answer from the panel we may be headed towards a regionally aligned army, but we are missing out on the concept of global engagement.
The retired FSO started out by discussing his experience with the National Guard (NG) and their State Partnership Program (SPP). The NG SPP establishes military-to-military relationships between the NG units from a specific state and the military of a specific country. For example, the New York NG is partnered with the South African military. The strength of this program was its ability to create long term relationships. Active duty military and State Department personnel rotate every two or three years. The retired FSO kidded that the standard joke in most countries in Africa was “if it’s Tuesday, there must be a new American.” NG units were different. It is not uncommon for a platoon leader to work his way up to be the BCT Commander without ever leaving the BCT. In fact, changes in personnel are rare. So when a Captain in the South African Army meets a Captain in the NY NG chances are good that they will see each other again as Majors and even as Lieutenant Colonels. He would know how many children this counterpart has and where they live. He would have shared stories about life in America. The NY NG Captain not only learned about the culture and the language of South Africa, he built a relationship with another human being. Relationships mean a lot in Africa. The ability to build relationships over the long term also means that there was greater trust between the Soldiers of the two militaries. Although he did not say it directly, the retired FSO hoped that the future regionally aligned force could learn from this example.
The answer from the active duty Generals on the forum’s panel did not indicate that they understood the point the retired FSO was trying to make. Units would form the relationships with foreign militaries. The new people coming in would be trained in the local culture and language. The people PCS’ing out of the unit would leave behind their knowledge that would be incorporated into the institutional knowledge of the unit. The units that were regionally aligned would be filled with personnel who knew the culture. The units would have what they need to engage in combat in the area they were regionally aligned to. But a unit having the knowledge and capability to fight in a certain part of the world is not the same as an American Soldier building a relationship with a South African Soldier. It does not “engage” our partners on any level that they find important. We may understand their culture but we do not take it seriously … at least not seriously enough to change the way we do business.
None of this would matter if the only thing we expected our regionally aligned forces to be able to do is to win wars in the area they are aligned in. Unfortunately, that is not the case. “Shape, deter, win” is now our mantra with the “shaping” taking place in Phase 0. Phase 0 is when we build trust and create relationships. Now, before a conflict starts, is when we engage our partners. While we are planning on regionally aligning our forces it does not appear that we are seriously planning on engaging anyone.
It is possible that the Generals were just being pragmatic. The U.S. Army is designed to develop well rounded leaders. No officer (or NCO) is kept in a job too long. They are moved to expand their experiences. To develop a program that kept officers with the same units for their entire career would require a complete overhaul of our leadership development system. Further, regional alignment does not mean country alignment. A Brigade may be aligned with AFRICOM but it is not only going to deploy to Kenya. These are both valid points. Still, there are other ways to suck the egg. Perhaps aligning officers and NCOs with certain countries early in their carrier and sending them TDY during exercises that take place in that country. Perhaps even inviting officers from the target country to come to America and spend time with their aligned counterpart. In any case, if we are seriously looking at engaging with our future global partners, then we should seriously consider how to not just build relationships between militaries, but between people.